WHAT ARE VALENTINE’S DAY “LONELY HEART” SCAMS AND HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF?

Every year as Valentine’s Day approaches, people across the country will begin to share the joys of love, affection, and companionship. Likewise, brick-and-mortar and online businesses will ramp-up advertising campaigns aimed at supporting the widespread drive to show others how much you care. It is all great fun and something we are happy to take part in.

Unfortunately though, Valentine’s Day is also seen as an opportunity for cyber criminals and bad actors to take advantage of vulnerable, lonely souls. Seniors, including our South Dakota seniors, are among the most vulnerable groups of potential victims. Often, researchers find that this is due to a higher incidence of loneliness and social isolation. February finds an increased number of romance scams, or “lonely heart” scams. These scams often operate like this: A cyber criminal trolls social media sites, or perhaps senior dating websites, and establishes an emotional connection with an unsuspecting victim by using a false online identity and saying all the right things. Then, the criminal attempts to move the conversation to a more private setting, such as email, Instant Messenger, text messages or even telephone calls. In short order, the bad actor asks for money or for personal information that could lead to identity theft. They also use elaborate stories as justifications for their bold requests, such as helping a sick relative or needing to borrow a credit card to secure airfare to come visit. In almost all of these events, the result is the same and the senior’s money is stolen and they never actually meet the person they thought they were bonding with. It is sad and illegal. Further, any ill-gotten financial gains are compounded by the emotional damage perpetrated on lonely senior victims. Let us share some critical tips seniors and their loved ones can use to protect themselves this Valentine’s Day.

  • Be suspicious if someone online attempts to gain your emotional trust if you have never met them in-person.

  • Never provide your personal information to someone you only know online, and never give them money, no matter how much they try to convince you.

  • Be extremely cautious if someone online wants to talk using a private form of communication, such as text or email.

  • If you think you are in contact with a potential scammer, tell family, friends, caregivers or neighbors immediately. Do not let embarrassment get in the way of protecting yourself.

  • Report any suspicious activity to the website proprietor and to law enforcement immediately.

We know this blog may raise more questions that it answers. Know that this is often a difficult conversation to have for all involved, be compassionate if you are discussing it with a senior loved one. Further, work with your senior loved one to ensure that he or she has the estate planning tools in place to ensure that he or she can be as protected as possible at all times. We encourage you not to wait to contact our office and schedule a meeting now, or any time in the future.

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